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Bad Kitty® Inspiration Series: Prudence Chamberlain

By on February 26, 2016

BK: Tell us a bit about your circumstances. What kinds of challenges have you faced with your health?

PC: I was born with a rare kidney disease called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, or HUS (it’s a mouthful image6right?). I came really close to death twice by the time I was 22 months old, which was when I was diagnosed. Basically both my kidneys completely stopped working for 15 and a half days. This meant I didn’t pee for that amount of time and so because I couldn’t pee, it kept building up in my body. I became like a human water balloon. My eyes were swollen shut, my whole body was swollen. I had to be strapped to me bed because I would bite at my skin and act like a wild animal. Even at such a young age, I remember the pain. (How can you forget? It’s like nothing I have ever felt in my life.) Everything was tight and I felt like my skin was slowly being ripped off my body. There is no cure for this disease. You just have to let it takes its course. It will either kill you or you’ll be one of the lucky ones. I was one of the lucky ones.

By the time I was five I was in kidney failure so had to start peritoneal dialysis. Because of the dialysis I could only attend school for half the day and then had to come home for a bag exchange and have lessons with a tutor. I had no friends and was bullied because I was different. To this day, I cannot stand the word freak.

But I was lucky. Eight months after starting dialysis, I got a new kidney. I was six and the donor was four.

I guess life returned to normal after that. Well, MY normal. We lived in a small country town in Victoria called Benalla and I had my transplant in Melbourne. Every month Mum and I would make the two and a half hour drive for regular check ups and blood tests to make sure everything was going well.

I loved these trips because it meant I could have a ham and cheese croissant and the froth off Mum’s cappuccino after my appointment. (Small pleasures, right?)

Being on immune suppressants meant I caught any little bug or virus but it would be more severe for me. Colds usually always turned into pneumonia which meant another hospital stay and more needles. If chicken pox, measles or mumps were going around school, I was sent home immediately ( these are a big no-no for transplant patients), rushed to the hospital to be immunized with….We’ll call it horse jelly because it contained something from horses and it was as thick as jelly. Your weight determined how much you needed. My first time I had to go through this treatment it took two doctors and five nurses to hold me down. I was only six!!! (Hey, a kid on steroids can be pretty damn strong ok, plus, I was terrified of needles and I was a stubborn little shit to boot).

Honestly, I could write a whole book on what I’ve been through.

For example, almost losing my kidney to chronic rejection at 16 and being on such high doses of steroids I experienced “road rage.” That was scary.

Snide comments at school for having so many days off.

Being diagnosed with depression, anxiety and panic disorder. The panic attacks would hit me when I was in hospital and my Mum was getting ready to leave. The amount of times she has “slept” in chairs beside my bed is crazy. (Sorry Mum!!!)

Being suicidal and putting my poor parents through being on suicide watch at home because they knew I would only be worse in a psychiatric ward.

Turning to alcohol to self medicate and block everything out.

Getting chicken pox when I was 18 and almost losing my kidney again because of it. Not one “friend” came to visit me or called me in the two weeks I was in hospital. (I knew where I stood after that. I was just the taxi driver to them because I was the only one with a license and that hurt.)

I tried twice to become a hairdresser and both times my body failed me. It just couldn’t cope. I must have been the only 21 year old who turned down a second apprenticeship because of gout. How I made it through the day with excruciating pain in my foot is beyond me. It later spread to my knees and I would be confined to bed for two to three days because it was agony to walk.

Because of the continued use of steroids (used as an anti rejection drug), my bones became weak and I developed osteoporosis. I spent one particular year in a cast for six months. Three casts for two fractures in my left leg and three for two fractures in my right foot. I even got two stress fractures in each heel just from walking. But, my osteoporosis was able to be treated with huge doses of calcium and vitamin D, so I no longer have it.  Thank goodness.

I’ve had so many skin cancers and skin lesions burnt or cut out I’ve lost count. My medications make my skin very sensitive to the sun so I have to be super careful. The worst one was on my upper lip and it was so big that they had to take skin from my chin and flip it up to replace the damaged skin that had been taken. For it to heal properly my mouth was sewn shut for three weeks. Honestly, I felt like the bride of Frankenstein. But I had a bit of fun with it. There was an opening big enough for a straw to fit so I used to freak my Mum out by squirting water out of it like a human water fountain (ah fun times, fun times). But to this day I hate the scar and the the odd shape of my lips.

In my early 30’s I suffered a mild stroke or T.I.A. caused by a calcification build up in my body from all the years on my medications breaking off and going to my brain. It took me (I kid you not) 20 minutes to crawl and then slide my way to my front door so I could unlock it to let my Mum in and the ambulance. I wasn’t left with any permanent damage but for a few months after, whenever I got tired my left leg would start to drag.image1

Maybe a month after that, I had 5 blood clots (DVT) in my right arm. So I’ve been on blood thinners ever since and damn do I bruise easily. After some pole classes my pole kisses are INSANE. They are really quite impressive!

December 10th, 2013 was when I was told I was in renal failure again and would eventually have to have another transplant. That news was like my worst nightmare come to life. I didn’t want to go through it again. In April 2014, my dialysis catheter was buried under my skin in preparation for when I would need it. Nobody really knew when that might be. It could be weeks, months or years. It was a matter of months. My health declined really quickly after that. By November my kidney was working at 10% function.

So in the beginning of December 2014, my catheter port was excised, I had my two days training to learn how to dialise and then started my treatment. Getting used to having two liters of fluid in my stomach all the time took a while. I felt like a whale.

From there on my life was consumed by dialysis. If I went into town, I’d go right after a bag exchange because they needed to be done every four hours and each treatment of draining out the old fluid and draining in the clean fluid took up to an hour sometimes. Dialysis was my life now. I felt like that’s all I ever did. I was exhausted all the time and slept so much. That made me feel utterly useless and lazy. A one hour pole class would take me at least two days to recover from.

My dad was tested to see if he would be a match for a kidney, but my body rejected his tissue. It broke both of our hearts. I’ll never forget that horrible day.

There were endless tests and scans for a transplant work up to make sure my body was as healthy as it could possibly be. The list just went on and on and I felt like I wasn’t getting any closer to getting on the transplant list. I was finding it harder and harder to stay positive (anyone who knows me, knows I’m a positive person and it takes a lot to get me down). Slowly my depression crept back but I didn’t say anything because I already felt like a big enough burden to my parents. One particular day was a really rough day of appointments and tests I came home (dad was at work and mum was on her way home from Perth) and I tried to hurt myself. I just felt like it would be so much easier for my family if I wasn’t here. They wouldn’t have to worry about me.

A lot of people would call me selfish but you know what? I did not have a selfish thought in my head at that time and unless you have been to that dark place, then you really have no idea what irrational thoughts that seem totally rational to you at the time go through your head.

Thankfully (although I didn’t think so when I woke up), no serious damage was done. I was just extremely sleepy for a few days. Subconsciously it was my cry for help and I did get help. It took time, but I got back on my feet again.

And thank goodness, because not long after that, September 10th 2015, I got my new kidney. I was only on the list for five weeks, but it had been eight months of testing.

Now, as I write this exactly five months post transplant, life couldn’t be better. I’m happy, healthy and alive and life has gone back to normal. Well, MY normal.

I have a whole new world out there and I want to grab it with both hands. And thanks to pole, I’m building my strength back up again and staying as healthy as I can. And the bonus is I don’t have to worry about my catheter getting in the way!!!

My goals? To become a make-up artist and to perform in the Fitzys Pole N Tone student showcase this June.

I know I have more hurdles that will come my way, but for right now, I’m just enjoying having my life back.

BK: Have these challenges impacted your emotional health positively or negatively? How so?

PC: My emotional health has definitely suffered through all of this. How could anyone go through something like this and come out unscathed? It would be almost impossible.image10

BUT, I think it’s also been impacted in a positive way too. I think with every obstacle I overcome, it’s made me mentally stronger each time.

I’m not always like that though. I crash and burn too. And I crash hard. I wasn’t the kind of person to ask for help when I’m hurting. I didn’t want to bother people, especially my parents. I had become really good at hiding how much I’m hurting (Except from my mum. Mums know everything).

Depression, anxiety and panic disorder are hard. But put that with being on dialysis, waiting for a new kidney, endless tests and scans and being so tired you can barely function and you’re going to reach a breaking point. And I reached mine. Even writing this makes me teary. I never in my life imagined I would be the kind of person who would try to commit suicide by taking pills. I never told anyone that I wasn’t coping or that I was hurting that badly. Mum knew I was struggling but not to that extent.

Looking back now I’m so glad I’m still here. I’ve got too many amazing things to look forward to. I don’t know what they are yet, but they will be amazing.

And I know there are still going to be rough moments, but like everything in my life, I’ll get through it. Only this time, I won’t be scared to ask for help if I need it. It doesn’t make me weak at all. If anything it makes me stronger for knowing I can’t do everything on my own.

BK: When did you discover pole?

PC: I discovered pole at the end of 2014 when I was having a really crappy time of things. I was constantly stressed over things that were happening with my health and I was getting tired of the way I was being taken advantage of from my now ex fiancé.

I live in Pinjarra Western Australia (we moved to WA in 1991) and I would travel back and forth to Mandurah a lot (20km away) and I was always going past this studio called Fitzys Pole N Tone and always thought it sounded interesting.

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I decided to look it up one particular day and discovered it was pole dancing.. I had to try it. I wanted to do what the girls in the pictures were doing and I wanted to be fit like them too. So I signed up and I’ve never looked back. I was hooked right from the start. It’s the best decision I have ever made.

Hi, my name is Prue and I’m addicted to Pole.

BK: What kind of an effect did pole have on you mentally, emotionally, physically, even spiritually?

PC: Pole has completely changed my life for the better. It gave me something to focus on  and look forward to. Even if it was just for an hour. For me, in that hour I didn’t have to think about dialysis, tests, appointments, how sick I was or how toxic my relationship was. I didn’t care that my body was utterly exhausted for two days after a class and would only wake up for a bag exchange. For that one hour I felt like any other poler. I was there to learn and to get fit.

I was so worried that once I started dialysis my doctors would tell me I wouldn’t be able to continue pole dancing in case I kinked my catheter or something, but they actually encouraged it. I had to be as fit and healthy as I could for when it came time for a transplant (seriously, being allowed to keep doing pole was like Christmas to me).

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There were certain things I had to do like drain out the dialysis fluid for class. No complaints there though.

It definitely made me physically stronger. That was a given. It took me months to climb to the top of the pole, but when I tapped my hand on that roof for the first time, it was the best feeling in the world. I love that feeling you get when you nail a new move.

Mentally pole gave me something to focus on. I became obsessed. Every conversation was about pole, not my health. Bag exchanges were spent watching the likes of Bendy  Kate, Felix Cane, Marion Crampe and so many more on YouTube and wishing I could be like them one day and even meeting them.

I have gotten to meet Bendy. I did one of her master classes six weeks after my transplant and she is amazing (I pestered my doctor so much about going that he eventually, but reluctantly agreed to let me go haha).

But they let me do her class because they could see firsthand how pole had helped me after my transplant. How physically strong it had made me. I was up and walking ( ok ok, shuffling ), to my chair less than 12 hours after my transplant. I made it a point to walk a little further each day. I was told most patients are in wheelchairs for up to two weeks after their surgery.

Pole dancing made me fit and I was able to bounce back a lot faster. That alone was proof enough for me at just how amazing pole dancing is. Not only for your body, but for your mind as well. And the friends you make along the way? They’re amazing. We encourage each other, help each other and cheer when we nail a new move. We’re a family. A strong, fierce, kick arse pole dancing family.

BK: What do you consider to be the most healing aspect of pole dancing?

PC: For me, pole is so many things. It’s so freeing and liberating and its shows you just how strong your body can be. It builds your body and it builds your confidence too. I can walk into class some nights where I’ve just had a really crappy day and I’m not really in the best mood, but as soon as I get on that pole, I forget about my bad day and I feel happy. I walk out of class like a new person. Shoulders back and head held high. Pole changes you in ways that are sometimes hard to explain to non-polers.

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The confidence it gave me was a HUGE thing for me. Everyone knows there comes a time when you progress in class and you need as much skin out as possible (hello pole pocket). It’s just tiny shorts and a crop top.

For me, I was terrified. I had a catheter coming out of my stomach!!!! Nobody wants to see that… And I didn’t want my classmates to stare at me. They knew I was on a thing called dialysis but they didn’t know what it was.

But you know what? No one stared. They asked a few questions and that was it. It was a non issue. That, to me was a really freeing and liberating feeling.

Then after my transplant (I’m serious when I say that those 10 weeks I had to take off to heal were the longest 10 weeks of my life!!!!), stepping back into that studio after so long felt like I’d come home.

My stomach muscles are still knitting together, but I hadn’t lost as much strength as I thought I would have.

Now I can focus on being the strongest I can be, and I love that feeling.

BK: What advice do you have for other pole dancers who may be going through a challenging time?

PC: Let’s just put it out there-life can be a bitch. You can have crap upon crap upon crap going on in your life and feel like you just can’t catch a break and wonder what the point is. What’s the point of even trying when everything is just going to fall to pieces again? Why me? You want to hide away under the covers in your safe, cozy bed until things get better. Am I right? Or, you might have even tried hurting yourself.

Newsflash, no one said life was meant to be easy. But I believe it’s the hard times that make us stronger, that build character. Sure as hell doesn’t feel like it at the time, but trust me, it does. I know it’s made me stronger. I don’t think I’d be the woman I am today without those hurdles.

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We are all more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. If there is something we really want, we work towards getting it right? Prime example: by the time I was six I’d had so many surgeries that I knew the post op procedure like a pro. Eat, drink and hold it down and go to the toilet. This particular surgery, I was getting my dialysis catheter removed. So, I go through the post op ritual and I’m discharged. I walk out of that hospital all smiles, cross the road where I knew I was far enough away from the hospital and crumpled over in pain. Pain be damned, I wanted to get home for Christmas at get that cabbage patch kid with the real hair that I so desperately wanted (and was slightly disappointed when the call for my kidney came and my mum asked me what was the one thing I really wanted for Christmas was and I said the cabbage patch doll with real hair and she told me it was a kidney!!! I was six ok?? Give me a break).

My point is, if we are willing to do whatever it takes to get what we want, why don’t we work this hard at being happy? Or we will bend over backwards (Because pole dancers can do that. We are flexy like that.) to help our friends and family or support them, but not ourselves. It’s not selfish to look after ourselves. What good are we if we are a crumpled mess?

I think when challenges come our way we need to be kinder to ourselves. My mum always puts it like this: is there anything you can do to fix the situation? If yes, then take the steps you need to to do it.

If you can’t, then we just have to go with it. Worrying about something or being sad and upset over something we cannot change isn’t doing us any good. It won’t change what happened. It is what it is.

But honestly, my biggest advice to you is this… JUST BE KINDER TO YOURSELF. We are our own worst enemy. We are so hard on ourselves all the time. Whatever it is that you’re going through, just take one day at a time or even just one hour at a time. It doesn’t matter because it’s not a race.

Talk to someone. Don’t keep it bottled up inside or think you’re being a pain in the butt. If you keep everything to yourself, you’re eventually going to blow.

Seek professional help if you have to. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak. If anything, it makes you strong for being able to stand up and say “Hey, you know what, I’m not handling things very well and I can’t do this on my own. I need some help.”

Things do get better, but we need to put in a bit of work to get there. We need to love ourselves.

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Keep this in mind.

We are strong, beautiful, fierce KICKASS pole dancers. We hang upside down on poles for fun!! And if there is a move we want to master, we work for it until we’re covered in bruises and have ripped skin on our bodies.

Trust me when I say, there is nothing, NOTHING we cannot do. We just need to believe it and believe in ourselves.

So let me leave you with two of my favorite sayings.

This too shall pass.

If you find yourself in hell, keep going.

-WINSTON CHURCHILL

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Claire Griffin Sterrett
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Claire Griffin Sterrett

Editor in Chief at Bad Kitty Inc.
Writer, pole dancer, teacher, social worker and editor of this whole awesome thing.You can find out more about me at www.polestory.com.
Claire Griffin Sterrett
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